A top European Union official said Wednesday that the first citizens in the 27 nation bloc could be vaccinated against the coronavirus by Christmas, but she warned that member countries must urgently prepare their logistical chains for the rollout of hundreds of millions of doses of the vaccines.
Claiming that there's finally light at the end of the tunnel, European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen told EU lawmakers that the first European citizens might already be vaccinated before the end of December.
The commission, the EU's executive arm, has agreements with six potential vaccine suppliers and is working on a seventh contract. The deals allow it to purchase over 800 million doses, more than the population of the bloc, which stands at around 460 million people.
On Tuesday, Brussels said it would sign a contract for up to 160 million doses of the experimental coronavirus vaccine developed by Moderna, which the company says appears to be 94.5% effective, according to its preliminary data.
But von der Leyen said that while vaccines are important, what counts are vaccinations.
Frequently Asked Questions
A vaccine works by mimicking a natural infection. A vaccine not only induces immune response to protect people from any future COVID-19 infection, but also helps quickly build herd immunity to put an end to the pandemic. Herd immunity occurs when a sufficient percentage of a population becomes immune to a disease, making the spread of disease from person to person unlikely. The good news is that SARS-CoV-2 virus has been fairly stable, which increases the viability of a vaccine.
There are broadly four types of vaccine — one, a vaccine based on the whole virus (this could be either inactivated, or an attenuated [weakened] virus vaccine); two, a non-replicating viral vector vaccine that uses a benign virus as vector that carries the antigen of SARS-CoV; three, nucleic-acid vaccines that have genetic material like DNA and RNA of antigens like spike protein given to a person, helping human cells decode genetic material and produce the vaccine; and four, protein subunit vaccine wherein the recombinant proteins of SARS-COV-2 along with an adjuvant (booster) is given as a vaccine.
Vaccine development is a long, complex process. Unlike drugs that are given to people with a diseased, vaccines are given to healthy people and also vulnerable sections such as children, pregnant women and the elderly. So rigorous tests are compulsory. History says that the fastest time it took to develop a vaccine is five years, but it usually takes double or sometimes triple that time.
"Member states must get ready now. Were talking about millions of syringes, were talking about cold chains, were talking about organizing vaccination centers, were talking about trained personnel that is there. You name it. All this has to be prepared, she warned.
Still, Von der Leyen urged European citizens to continue respecting restrictions, even as the measures harm businesses, further damage coronavirus-ravaged economies and put people through social and mental hardship.
With nearly 3,000 deaths a day, COVID-19 was the number one cause of death in the EU last week. Hospitals remain under stress, and in some regions some intensive care units are overwhelmed," she said.
We must learn from the summer and not repeat the same mistakes. Relaxing too much is a risk for the third wave after Christmas, von der Leyen said, adding that this Christmas will be different, and yes, it will be quieter.